WVU basketball: 'And-one' chances hurt Mountaineers at Oklahoma State
STILLWATER, Okla. - It wasn't the 3-pointers from the Big 12's scariest shooter or the player with two 3s on the back of his jersey that did in West Virginia in Saturday's loss to No. 11 Oklahoma State. It was the three-point plays that mattered most in the 81-75 loss to the Cowboys.
The home team thrilled the crowd of 10,011 at Gallagher-Iba Arena by making eight baskets while being fouled and by making the free throw six times afterward to complete the and-one. In a game that entertained with 10 tied scores and nine lead changes and enraged with 56 fouls, 66 free throws and six players, including stars for both teams, fouling out, it was those eight scores amid contact that pushed the crowd over the top and fostered a feeling that the Cowboys could not be stopped.
"We know teams are going to make shots, whether it's a layup, a dunk or a 3, but the biggest thing we don't want to do is foul and make it a weak foul," said WVU point guard Juwan Staten, who miraculously played all but a few seconds of the game and didn't foul once. "If we're going to foul, we need to foul hard and make sure they don't get the ball over the rim. It's tough when you foul and they get the basket, especially when it's an easy basket because of a soft foul."
Stevie Clark would make two momentous 3-pointers for Oklahoma State, which helped as Phil Forte, the conference's leading 3-point shooter, went 1-for-9. Both times WVU took the ball out of the basket and went the other way. Markel Brown had a pair of rousing dunks, including a 360 after a steal near midcourt. Once again, though, the Mountaineers got the ball and went back the other way.
The chance to play on would quiet a crowd that had been conditioned by a back-and-forth game to expect an answer.
The and-ones were different, though, because the fans could cheer for the basket and the damage the foul did to the Mountaineers while the game stopped for a few seconds as the officials signaled in the offense and the audience applauded. A few seconds later, a free throw would give the supporters one more thing to celebrate. There could be no quick reply for WVU (11-9, 3-4 Big 12).
In the end, the Mountaineers knew they'd been out of position and late to the action when they fouled, but they also knew what it meant.
Had WVU simply fouled the shooter eight times and not let him score, the most the Cowboys could have scored was 16 points. WVU instead complicated matters by allowing eight baskets - the equivalent of the 16 free throws - and then committing fouls that let Oklahoma add six more points at the free throw line.
The final margin? Six points and WVU's sixth loss by nine points or fewer. The Mountaineers play at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Baylor (13-6, 1-5).
"We definitely need to foul harder," said Staten, who was checked into the basket support and left with no chance to score on one foul by Oklahoma State's Kamari Murphy. "If we're going to foul, there's no sense in fouling and giving them an easy bucket. If you're going to take that foul, it needs to be a good one and you need to be sure the shot doesn't get up on the basket."
The odd part for WVU was that it otherwise played a purposefully physical game, especially against Marcus Smart, the Big 12's preseason player of the year. The Mountaineers tangled with him from start to finish and admittedly tried a few things to bother him and encourage a response.
"That was about being competitive," said WVU guard Eron Harris, who fouled out after scoring 21 points in 21 minutes. "He's supposed to be this big thing, but he's just a human being, just like me."
Smart, the league's leading scorer, ended up making one basket and scoring four points before fouling out in 25 minutes of play. The Mountaineers were pretty pleased to see their plan work, even if the Cowboys improved to 8-0 in the games the sophomore has scored fewer than 10 points in his career. WVU knew the 6-foot-4, 220-pound point guard initiated a lot of contact. They wanted to return the favor.
Smart spent a lot of time on the floor and either responding to or exaggerating the effects of WVU's persistent physical play. Three of Smart's fouls were on offense. He had 22 points and 13 rebounds and committed three fouls in a win at the Coliseum earlier this month.
"That was something we'd been talking about in practice," Staten sad. "We played him once already and we know how he plays. He likes to be physical, so we had to be physical back with him and try to get him in foul trouble. That's what we did. We knew if we got him in foul trouble in the first half we could slow him down and have a chance."
The Mountaineers also had a plan, but no answer for Le'Bryan Nash, who scored a career-high 29 points. The 6-foot-7 junior scored six baskets while being fouled and turned in five three-point plays. He had 14 of Oklahoma State's 32 points in the paint. WVU scored only 12 points in the paint.
"If I get going, I feel like I'm hard to stop," he said. "I really believe that in myself. I feel like I'm a great scorer."
With Smart and starting center Kamari Murphy on the bench for stretches of the first and second half, the Cowboys (16-3, 4-2) tried to exploit the mismatch they had with Nash against any player or any zone the Mountaineers used to defend him. Most notable was a significant stretch in the middle of the second half. WVU took its final lead at 58-57 on Staten's layup with 9:23 to go, but Nash would score all the points for the Cowboys in an 11-2 run. He had three-point plays on three of four possessions and then added a short jumper.
"He caught the ball where he's really good," Huggins said. "I told the guys for two days and I told them again at halftime if he catches it at 10 or 12 feet, he's going to beat you. If you back off of him, he's going to shoot it in and if you get up he's going to drive by you. We had to force him up higher and make everything harder for him."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu.